Erekat: 'Alternative to Arafat Is Chaos'

An adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat told reporters in Washington Wednesday that "the alternative to Arafat is chaos."

Saeb Erekat, who is leading the delegation meeting Thursday with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that the humanitarian situation among Palestinian communities is dire, and is primarily the result of Israel's imposition of crippling restrictions on Palestinian movements.

"They're saying they don't have a (peace) partner," Erekat said. "But they're killing the partner!"

He said that he doesn't think Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to make peace with Palestinians even if Arafat isn't at the helm.

"You think Sharon cares if Palestinians are ruled by Attila the Hun or the Boy Scouts?" implying clearly that he is not optimistic about improvements in the dynamics of the relationship.

In an hour-long session with reporters that was mostly a monologue with a few questions and answers at the end, Erekat said 3.3 million Palestinian people are "living in the biggest prison in the world."

He said they are facing a massive outbreak of starvation with malnutrition in half of Palestinian children, anemia among women and a third of the population living on nothing but handouts.

Erekat said the figures come from a study by the U.S. Agency for International Development and added, "We want the U.S. to do something about their findings."

Erekat is the highest-level Palestinian official to meet with U.S. officials since the Bush administration took office. U.S., European and Arab nations are trying to come up with a solution to give Palestinians statehood within three years, but the United States refuses to deal with Arafat, interchangeably calling him ruthless and impotent.

Powell, however, agreed to meet with the Palestinians this week in order to discuss a provisional peace plan that would call for new elections and reforms in the security and democratic operations of the Palestinian Authority on the way to statehood.

While the Palestinians have called elections for January, no decision has been made yet on how successes will be measured and when the Israelis will pull out of occupied Palestinian territories.

According to Erekat, Palestinians will be pushing an idea that Jordanian leaders emphasized on an earlier visit advocating third-party monitors to "vouch" for both sides' activities. Along with that, he wants more than 6,000 Palestinian police he said are currently being held by Israel to be released. Without them, Erekat complained, it will be impossible to keep public order in any case.

Erekat said that he doesn't see how they can get elections on course for January with conditions the way they are at the present time.

Erekat asked how voters could even be registered since the population was confined to their homes and he predicted that cynics would charge the Palestinian Authority did not want to hold elections.

He also reiterated condemnation of Palestinian suicide and homicide bombings.